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How to Build Trust From Connection in Our Virtual World

One of the few silver linings of COVID-19 has been the deep recognition of the value of face-to-face personal connection. Yes, we have Zoom, Facetime, WebEx, etc. to help us make it through, but the connection I’m talking about comes from being in the same room, and I know we all feel its absence.

However, upon reflection, I realized that even before all this separation, I may have been taking my relationships for granted, relying too heavily on the gift of proximity. I wasn’t paying near enough attention to those around me when I had them closeby. It’s time to reconnect with the importance of our relationships, while acknowledging that there is going to be a new normal. If it hasn’t happened already, there may come a time when you have a team member who you’ve never been in the same room with. What then? How will you ever have a meaningful relationship?

As the world gradually reopens, some people may head back to the office, but many others will remain remote or begin some sort of hybrid schedule. Just as you would have to work harder to stay connected in a long-distance relationship, you have to work to make (and keep) connections in a virtual world. Trust is a hard thing to earn in any circumstance, but if it’s important to you, you’ll put in the work, and maybe, just maybe, you’ll admit you haven’t been doing as much as you could for a while now. 

Human Connection is Where Trust Lives

The broadest element of trust—an umbrella under which everything else falls—is connection. You have to be willing to be interested in what people want to share about themselves and their lives. Honor and respect that by giving grace and attention. 

When we share space with each other, this connection is more natural and happens more readily. But I want to acknowledge that being remote has actually made this better for some. People are enjoying a peek into each other’s homes, getting to see the kids or pets pop up onto the screen. For me, being an introvert at heart, it’s been reaffirming. Remote work is something I’ve done for 20 years, but finally, it feels like it’s acceptable and not something to minimize. 

The key to connection is seeking to share about yourself and learn about others, understanding that we may have over-relied on the informal motions of being in the same office. Now, with intentional work, we can do this virtually too. 

Frequency and Consistency 

Underneath the umbrella of connection lies frequency and consistency. It’s not enough to be inquisitive with your co-workers one time. Reach out regularly to see how they’re doing. Write a note to yourself in your calendar if you have to, or start every meeting with a question: What’s something you keep on your desk that’s important to you? If you could have a superpower, what would you choose? What did you eat for dinner last night? 

It’s less about what the question is and more about the asking — immersing yourself in someone else’s perspective. You may see some eyes roll at the thought of a regular “icebreaker” or conversation-starter for the team, but that’s not important. Sure, icebreakers might have been awkward before, but don’t we all crave connection and conversation these days? What’s important is that the team stays familiar with and curious about the people they’re working with.

Three Things to Consider for Building Connection as a Foundation For Trust

  1. Time and energy aren’t eternal: When you wake up in the morning, you only have so much time and energy to spend before you’re back in bed, so it’s up to you to budget accordingly. Consider how little time it would take to check in with your co-workers, and the value it brings to both of you. As a matter of fact, connecting can actually restore some level of energy, bringing you back from the edge of a deficit. 
  2. Give grace everyday: It’s easy to slip into our negative assumptions. That side of us is like a little gremlin who pops up just to expect the worst in others. Instead of giving in to that, give grace. If someone isn’t reaching out to you to connect, or isn’t responding to you in your effort to connect, they probably have a good reason. Like I said, we have a lot on our minds right now. 
  3. Hold yourself accountable: There comes a time when we have to stop thinking and talking about being better and actually be better. No connection means no trust. No trust means poor relationships. Poor relationships lead to bad outcomes on a personal and professional level. Here’s what it comes down to—just show up for each other.

Meddlers

Fances Frei, a professor at Harvard Business School, talks about empathy and authenticity as two points on a triangle that makes up the elements of trust — logic being the third point. These days, so many of us are lacking empathy because we’ve been on emotional overload. That’s why, now more than ever, it has become particularly difficult yet all the more important to build trust. 

Trust may look a little different in a virtual world, but at its core, it’s the same. Get to know people. Ask them questions. Give them a piece of your time and energy. And give them grace. It’s as easy, and as challenging, as that. 


We all have good intentions about the things we want to start, accomplish, or do differently, but it can be harder than we think to make meaningful change. If you want to have a conversation about building trust on your team, contact Meddlers today.